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Community News: East

BOYLE HEIGHTS : Bright Idea Covers Ugly, Ominous Wall

June 27, 1993|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Until three weeks ago, the freeway sound wall facing Lorena Street Elementary School had been taken over by graffiti taggers, exposing the children to gang names, written threats and slurs.

Now, bright blocks of color cover the wall the length of the school property, and figures of men and women in occupations from A (for astronaut) to Z (for zoologist) adorn it.

Careers are spelled out in English and Spanish next to the multiethnic figures. The first panel introduces the mural with a bilingual message: "Yes we can."

The project, taken on by teacher Rena Harder, has been funded through school candy and book sales and a donation by Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre's office.

The students, from kindergarten through sixth grade, wear old clothes and work on the mural in daily shifts supervised by their teachers and aides.

Neighbors have responded by freezing water overnight and bringing it with drinking cups in the morning to last throughout the day. One man brought cookies for the students, and others have brought punch.

Caltrans workers along the Santa Ana Freeway volunteered to spray the background colors after seeing Harder work with 60 students for two hours to paint just the first 10 feet.

"The most powerful thing about this has been the kids," said Harder, who teaches a combined first- and second-grade bilingual class. "They're already showing that they can do what they want to do. The most important thing is to show people that kids can do things instead of always saying that they can't."

The mural, on Atlantic Street west of Lorena Street, will stretch to 450 feet when completed, with one gallon of paint for every 10 feet. Because the students have been working so fast, Harder thinks they will complete it by Wednesday.

Students preparing to paint last week pointed out their favorite figures. Many of the boys said they liked the kicking karate instructor.

They have enjoyed painting over the wall that faces the school's asphalt playground because, they said, they can get dirty, work with paint and brighten up the area.

"It was all ugly," said third-grader Maria Ramos, 9.

"We're painting so the gangsters don't paint," said Daisy Hernandez, 9.

Since the project began, no new graffiti have appeared on the wall, said Harder, and the markings that remain on the curb will eventually be painted over and signed by all the students who worked on the project.

Principal Mona Riddal said she had wanted the wall painted over with something bright and educational since she started in her position last summer.

"It's our children's view of the outside world," Riddal said.

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